A Case for the Single-Fin

An interview about longboarding with Harrison Roach

| posted on October 28, 2013

Harrison Roach, at home on the nose. Photo: Dodds

For a while there, longboards were the craft people loved to hate. Like many of us, Harrison Roach grew up watching longboarders sitting out the back, taking all the best waves, and trying to muscle through turns that simply didn’t make sense on a 9-foot board. But today, 23-year-old Roach is part of a growing scene of talented young surfers who have embraced logging for an entirely different, and more palatable, set of reasons. Trimming, noseriding, and getting the most out of small waves are as good of reasons to ride a longboard now as they were in the 1960s. We spoke to Roach about how longboards are finding a more natural place in surf culture.

Why has Noosa bred such a healthy longboard culture?

We’ve got these awesome pointbreaks that are just so perfect, but they are often small, so that’s created a big longboarding culture in comparison to the Gold Coast, where nearly everyone rides a shortboard. The waves in Noosa are so ideal for longboards that it would be hard not to ride them. But honestly, I probably ride shortboards more than I ride longboards. I think that most of the kids who grow up surfing Noosa ride everything, and the longboards just come out when it’s small. When you don’t limit yourself to one type of board or one type of surfing, you get to spend way more time in the water.

So what kind of boards do you ride on a day-to-day basis?

I feel like every session I’m on a different board. I have a lot of single-fins, some thrusters, a lot of boards from Neal Purchase Jr., and a lot of fish. I pretty much will try to ride anything I can get my hands on. I just bought a shortboard off Julian Wilson that I’ve been riding a lot lately. I try to just look at the waves and let that dictate what I ride.

PHOTOS: Cali Logging

Do you think longboarding has changed a lot in the past few years?

When I was growing up there were so many high-performance longboarders everywhere—you know, where guys are trying to do shortboard maneuvers on a longboard. When it was at its peak, guys were getting paid to ride longboards, travel the world, and do contests. But something happened and that all disappeared. I think the money that was behind it doesn’t exist anymore, not to mention most people just aren’t that keen on watching guys try to do snaps and cutbacks and all that shit on longboards. My idea of high-performance is really technical noseriding. I guess your perception of “high-performance” will sort of define what you try to do in the water. But for me, thrusters and longboards just don’t really go together. Hanging out with guys like Joel Tudor in California helped me really understand what’s special and unique about longboarding instead of just looking for ways to mimic shortboarding. In the ’60s, everyone was killing it on really heavy longboards. Those boards and that style of surfing just vanished with the Shortboard Revolution, but today a lot of people are realizing the place that those boards still have. You can do things on traditional longboards that you can’t do on anything else. Why would you want to get a 9’0″ version of your 6’0″ thruster and try to do the same things? You’re trying to use two crafts to serve one purpose.


Roach, yet another character on a long list of longboarding personalities. Photo: Dodds

There are very few traditional longboarders who are able to surf professionally. Why is it so difficult to collect a paycheck for riding a longboard?

Yeah, the concept of a pro longboarder barely exists now. It’s near impossible to make that into something that actually pays the bills. But longboarding where I come from is just everyone’s hobby. Everyone works other jobs, and that’s fine, because most people don’t care about being a pro surfer. There are a few people at home who are incredible, but even the best guys are just out there doing it because it’s fun and kind of a novelty. When you’re surfing at Noosa on a longboard and the waves are 2-foot, no matter how amazing your noseriding is, its not like you’re changing the world [laughs]. So in that sense, earning a bunch of money for hanging ten is a funny idea to me. Maybe one day that will be the case, but I can’t see it happening anytime soon.

READ: Joel Tudor, Unfiltered

It seems like the few events that you guys have, you guys don’t take them that seriously. Is that true with contests like the Duct Tape Invitational?

I think at the end of the day it’s still a contest and everybody wants to win, but it’s not like there’s that much on the line. The winner gets $4,000, which is amazing because everybody needs a little extra cash, but it’s not like winning $100,000 for first place at a World Tour event. I’m guessing if we were competing for that kind of money, things would get a little more serious [laughs]. But at the same time everybody involved in these longboard contests are all friends. The group of guys riding single-fin logs at that level is really small. We’re all mates because we have something in common. These guys come from all over the world, but we love the exact same style of riding waves. I wouldn’t see longboarding at that level unless I went to those contests.

Do you think people are starting to respect longboarding more now that a lot of surfers have gone back to this traditional style?

I’m not sure, but I have a lot of friends who are really talented young shortboarders and they look at this style of longboarding and can actually appreciate it. It’s so completely removed from the way they normally ride waves, and it takes its own set of skills. But it’s really just about riding the right board in the right conditions, and not just sticking to one thing. You won’t see us sitting behind the rock at Snapper on our logs, pulling into barrels, sitting further out than everyone and taking every good wave. That’s how longboarding got such a bad name in the first place. Fuck, when I was a kid I hated longboarders like everyone else for that reason. But when the waves are small and fun and everyone is on a log, it makes sense and everyone has fun. I like the way longboard culture is going. I doubt it’s going to take over the world or anything silly like that, but I think more and more people are going to realize how much fun they can have on a small day with a single-fin longboard.

  • Julian

    I actually rode a full fledged longboard in something bigger than thigh high for the first time ever two weeks ago. Flying down the line on that thing was the closest feeling to surfing for the first time that I’ve had yet. It really opened my eyes up

  • jimmy

    most kids these days haven’t a clue what riding a longboard feels like, espically riding on the nose, I think everyone should have at least 1 in their quiver.

    riding a 5’10 hp shortboard in 1 foot just looks silly,
    as does riding a 9’10 when its 6 foot. Ride the board for the conditions, i say.

    unfortunately, i think the main hurdle for adding a log to your quiver is the cost,
    $1200(log) + vs $780 (hp short boar) here in Australia.

  • kooooook

    Great interview! Roach is surprisingly articulate and gives a great perspective. No shock that people are getting into the heavy logs. In small surf they’re just more fun! Pretty simple!

  • Anthony Albert Rynicke

    i have a few arguements about the have who exactly snakes who in the battle of the long and short of it.

    • wiley workman

      I am that guy sitting out back plucking the cleanup gems, I am truly sorry I was such a hog, now the sup guys are giving me a headache, I understand, I am fairly at war with them and kite boarders,,it becomes a stadegy game now

  • mikensocal

    On any given day the one that has the most fun without ripping anyone off wins. A longboard is the right tool for that pursuit sometimes.

  • Tola Rat`s…surfin

    so real !! my keel back single fin !!.. , old 9’6 Hansen 50/50 & 10″2… 5″11 twin fin brokenose..

  • 5 foot 8 hawaian

    When the performance longboarding makes its comeback I’ll be the one who says we rode three fin longboards underground thru all those singlefin years…haha

  • jeremiah

    bit of a shame that longboarding went the way it did under ASP rules over the last 10 years. in the 1990’s it was accepted by all that 50% trad surfing and 50% modern manouveres were what you got scored on. you didnt noseride with style you did not get a 10. same reasoning if you did cutbacks or floaters all the way to the beach you did not get a 10. Use all the board all the time….simple really….

  • Mike Williams

    I started surfing in the 50’s and a short board was anything under 9 feet , but they still weighed 30 or so pounds. Then along came the short board revolution and I felt like I had been set free because of being able to maneuver the board all over the place. At that time you hardly ever saw a log in the water but there were a few hard crews that rode them still but also rode short boards. I rode nothing but short boards until the mid 70’s when I found a nice one ( A Diff ) under a friends house and asked if I could ride it. He told me no problem because it had been under the house for years without being ridden and I was the first since the late 60’s. That was about the time we started having a LongBoard Contest at Pine Trees beach break at Hanalei Bay and that Contest is still happening every Spring. I got a 8′ 3″ yater that was a magic board that got me so stoked I stopped riding my other boards and even rode it in 8′ Hanalei and other spots that size. In 92 I rode my first High Performance 9’0″ and fell in love with it and it became my only board to ride. I feel a really good HP Longboard is so much more fun but I am in my mid 60’s and as of a couple of years ago can no longer surf any more. See I got cancer and there is so much scar tissue in my throat that I cannot lift my head to see in front of me when I paddle. I do a little SUP riding and stay out of the way of the guys riding real boards so they still give me respect and a wave now and then. I wish I could knee paddle. It isn’t what you ride it’s are you having fun riding waves. I forgot to say that I have also been building boards since the late 60’s. Aloha, Wildog AKA Kokua Fiberglass

  • Brian Nielsen

    Longboarding may be regaining popularity trough the SUB Boarding, which is a pretty gentle way to get introduced to surfing in general. Most guys soon find it boring, just to paddle round in semi flat water on a door-size board, and start playing on smaller more agile boards. Introduction of the back-door 🙂

  • Keith Wright

    I grew up riding longer boards and pintails over 7 feet and never really understood or wanted to be a short boarder. The guys I grew up watching and surfing with always caught the biggest and best waves; had the most style and were the most respected locals. We all rode longer boards. From 2 feet to 20 feet Ill be riding a Frye; Hynson or Rusty long board or gun and all the new crew on your quads; “retro” 80’s trifins; fishes ect please paddle to the inside of me when Im coming down the line..